Month: November 2012

Why my twitter exchange with Toby Young proves that the Statutory Guidance is already dead in the water

The recent Education Select Committee sessions on Careers for Young People were overrun with FE College Heads and Careers Professionals bemoaning the lack of impartial information, advice and guidance offered to young people before they make huge decisions about transitions into the next stage of their learning. They, very energetically in some cases, put forward the case that the new Statutory Duty on schools to provide Careers IAG was a toothless document ignored by the majority in favour of years of tradition.

Yesterday Toby Young tweeted a TES link for a job advert at his West London Free School

The link:

It included the section:

The West London Free School is an all-ability secondary school that asks every child to learn Latin and do at least eight academic GCSEs or IGCSEs. That expects every pupil to transfer to the Sixth Form and go on to a good university.

The sentence in bold caught my eye. Remember the statutory guidance says:

Careers guidance must be presented in an impartial manner and promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships and other work-based education and training options.

and that

Academies and Free Schools will be subject to the same requirements
through their Funding Agreements.

To me, there is a clear clash of approach to the IAG on offer to students between those two documents. So I checked the WLFS website. On the “Overview” section is currently

Persuade every pupil to stay on in the Sixth Form and do a sufficiently demanding course of Sixth Form study to progress to a good university

So there we have it. No hiding or even attempt to do things in hushed tones. At the WLFS the expectation is that all students will transition to their own Sixth Form. Now, of course, this is nothing new. For years, secondary schools have held the power of quiet expectation that their students who met the entry requirements would progress into their own Sixth Forms. And it was this long held tradition that the FE College leaders were so disparaging about in their appearance in front of Graham Stuart and his committee.

So I tweeted Mr Young and you can see the conversation here:

his reply

shows that he clearly took my query to be another case of criticising perceived elitism that I’m sure he’s probably sick to the back teeth of responding to (or maybe not actually) when, in the spirit of the guidance, my focus was to see if the learners at the WLFS have the ability to act on impartial IAG.

His reply

shows who has the power in the decision making.

As I have already said, this is nothing new and, I’m sure, that many learners will have a fantastically successful time at the WLFS Sixth Form and progress onto hugely desirable opportunities because of the work of the school. But some, yes some, may be just as or even more successful at another Sixth Form or FE College or even (wash your eyes from the horror!) in an apprenticeship at either Intermediate or Advanced Level thus failing the ideal of a “good University” as a destination from the WLFS.

What makes this different to me is that here we have a vocal supporter of the benefits of a free (or at least less restricted) marketplace being introduced into the world of state education failing to adhere to the guidelines that are designed to ensure a more competitive marketplace in state education. That, when it actually comes to it, the allure of bums on seats will always trump competition and protectionism will override mere ‘Statutory Duties’ that are designed to place the informed learner at the heart of the decision making and that policies designed to promote ‘freedoms’ show very similar traits to the old structures.

The long Social Network tail

The most recent NICEC – Journal of the Institute for Career Education and Counselling focussed on Digital Technologies in career education and guidance.

All of the articles discuss how careers practitioners should be utilising the online world to offer a service that blends the best of the digital world with the benefits of more traditional career support.

“Careers workers who are not developing digital career literacy will soon find that they are not developing careers at all.”

The articles are an illuminating mix of career theory and real world examples of practitioners incorporating digital technologies into their work. Reading the issue lead me to mull over just what sort of clients careers workers will be dealing with in the future and what experience and, in some cases baggage, from their online life will they bring to careers guidance interactions. Current teenagers are often referred to as “digital natives” (urgh) but, in my experience this is a catchphrase that simplifies the more complex mix of online skills and deficiencies the majority of teenagers display.

“The ability to utilise the internet is a spectrum rather than a binary divide.”

This is true now but, as the current teenagers mature, this spectrum will alter and flex as they move through the education stages and into the workplace. Their current digital skills and priorities will change throughout this process as they mould their online experience and footprint to position them selves to best achieve their goals. Careers workers of the decades to come will encourage them to progress towards their career goals through embracing the digital communication and branding opportunities available online. I fear that this process will be akin to pushing a snowball up a hill though as future clients will start the process with years of baggage of social media usage. This baggage will manifest itself in two ways.

1) A long tail

Most modern teenagers treat social media and other digital methods of communicating not as tools to access specific information at specific periods but that they are part of their day as much as breakfast or brushing your teeth is. Their use of digital interactions seems (at least it is if you’re trying to get them to concentrate on anything) as fundamental to their waking moments as breathing. And all of this interaction (sometimes with local friends, sometimes with people they’ve never and will never meet in real life) leaves a trail of internet debris, a library of tweets, facebook posts, youtube comments, instagram comments, pinterest notes…. Every nock and cranny of their life can be, and usually is, seeped into the pores of the internet.

Now of course, teenagers don’t post all (or any) of this online just below a flashing neon sign with their full name or date of birth by it so potential future employers can quickly find this with the simplest of Google searches. They use pseudonyms and online tags as “xxXXXdizzaboiXXXxx” or “((lulzWaRrIoR))” which add a layer of confidentiality to their interactions but they are still there, online, forever. Imagine the worst case scenario for your own personal history. Cast your mind back to those first dates, those first underage nights out, that Sixth form group holiday, that high school play you (god knows why) were in…all loving recorded and displayed at the touch of a button.

Career minded adults are constantly reminded to police their own online behaviour for fear of negative consequences through a stream of news stories such as


Which, in turn, raises the question of just how expert in web search future HR departments are going to need to be to track down online histories and assuage the fears of employers that their preferred candidate isn’t a secret raving twitter loony.

2) The teaching of formality

“Connecting – describes the ability to build relationship and networks online that can support career development”

As their online communication is incessant and habitual, their checking system over both content and style of delivery is very weak. The ease by which the thought in their head makes its way onto the internet is too enticing. This means that levels of formality in language and tone are at extremely basic levels. Remember that time you accidentally sent a text to a work colleague and, through sheer habit, added an ‘x’ at the end? Imagine that but multiplied through generations. Encouraging formality and structure in online interactions to build fruitful career networks will be a major task of career professionals in the future.

“Grubb (2002) has urged caution about celebrating the availability of online careers information without also recognising the skills and literacies that underpin the effective use of these.”

There are two skills which I think are most relevant to Grubb’s observation and are lacking in this age group. Firstly, the ability to search the internet to find useful information is a possible weakness to consider when designing online careers provision and when assisting clients to access such provision. Young people struggle with the most basic online searches, sometimes asking you to repeat what you just said so they can type it verbatim into Google. An ‘online’ version of a careers library is sometimes regarded as an inferior model on which to base your online offer to clients but, in my experience, the clear structures and descriptions of job and work areas lead young people more quickly to the information they want to find. Ineffectual searching quickly leads to disengagement with the process as they fail to immediately see the relevance of the task.

The other skill is the impetus to take the online interaction into a ‘real world’ interaction. Colleagues that organise work experience in schools will know from experience that if you give a student an option of emailing or phoning an employer to request a placement; they will email every time. Requesting a student to phone an employer elicits a response of panic, disbelief and, sometimes, outright refusal which has to be overcome with encouragement and a steadfast refusal to take ‘no’ as an answer.  Another task for future career professionals will be to overcome an increasingly widespread aversion to face to face interaction. I should say at this point that, in my opinion, some of this trait can be based on a fear of failure. Reading a negative response in an email is much less of a knock to fragile confidence then putting your hopes on the line in a telephone or face to face conversation and then having them dashed.

“Online can no longer been seen as a parallel world where individuals take refuge from reality.”

Young people now seem to be very literate in their descriptions if asked (but perhaps not in their actions) of the dangers of online interaction with strangers. Through mildly hysterical media coverage and mildly dull assembly presentations they have a competent knowledge of the possible negative outcomes from their online profiles. Meanwhile, negative consequences to their own future career prospects of their online histories and interactions are not highlighted to them in any consistent way which is why resources such as this prezi by @GailMcguigan can be a useful starting point for raising this with this age group.
All quotes from “How the internet changed career: framing the relationship between career development and online technologies” by Tristram Hooley

Introducing Russell Group routes to KS4

The direction of the current Dfe is clearly one that holds great reverence to the Russell Group Universities and the route they offer for young people. And, I’ve found, that over the past few years more and more KS4 students have wanted to discuss what they would need to achieve to ensure that the top Universities are still a viable option for them when it comes time to apply.

So what resources are out there to use with, particularly KS4, Secondary school students to satisfy this and nurture this desire to study at our best institutions?

First Introductions

Education is…

A short video from Cambridge University, which in a superficial marketing way, tries to get across the point that people from lots of different backgrounds from all over the country can go to top a highly prestigious University. I’ve used this after a group task where I’ve asked students to draw what they imagine a Cambridge student to look like and then compared their highly stereotypical drawings (some Year 11s seem to believe that Cambridge is basically Hogwarts) with the people in the film.

A Guardian article about which A Levels some Universities prefer, which might be useful to spark small group work of looking at prospectuses for entry criteria and reporting back to the class


The recently revamped Unistats site is a brilliant compare and contrast tool for this sort of thing. The employment and entry statistics are clearly laid out and it’s simple to compare to other institutions to highlight both the high UCAS points needed but how this is, usually, shown to make a massive difference to the salary statistics after finishing the course. PPE at Oxford or Economics at LSE are both good for eliciting interest as their graduates quickly achieve high earnings after their course finishes.

Another thing KS4 students love to do on this site is track down the course their older siblings are currently studying at and laugh dismissively at the puny wages and terrible employment chances their brother or sister faces.

More In-depth

To accompany their indispensable booklet, ‘Informed Choices,’

the Russell Group have also released a video which reinforces the “facilitating subjects” line while Dr Wendy sits about in graveyards looking concerned (no, really). The actual booklet is a photocopying budget assassin, so don’t print it off. When working with individuals I tend to email the link to their school email address so they can look at it after the session.


Subject matters

The University of Cambridge run these sessions for Year 11s, usually in the winter months, to also advise on suitable A Level choices. They do charge £5 a pop and, from feedback from parents who have attended in previous years, they don’t cover anything different to the “Informed Choices” booklet or in the pdf on the site

I think, to be quite honest, this fulfills a need for the parents to go along to Cambridge and make themselves known by asking questions rather than a need for the students.

Year 10 Challenge Days

Cambridge promote these as enrichment opportunities for able or gifted students which is true, but they can also fulfill a useful need for widening participation and IAG. If I’m lucky enough to get some students on them, I will usually get there early and do a bit of a walk around the town centre and, if you’re fortunate enough to find a nice proctor, you might get to walk around the grounds of Kings which gives them a bit of a wow.

Outreach teams

At this point geography becomes important. Outreach cannot be underestimated in its impact and, to give them their due, both Oxford and Cambridge have always been very flexible to offering outreach visits and work with us. Maybe it’s because we’re easily reachable by road from both. Over the past few years both Universities have sent representatives to our Year 11 Careers Fair and Oxford have sent a team of current students who presented to a KS4 group


This can be very important. Keeping in touch with past students who are willing to come back into the school and talk about their own journeys can be very powerful IAG and it’s something I know I need to take more advantage of.

Companies such as Future First

offer paid for services to assist schools to build up alumni networks. Although, in the days of more and more official school twitter accounts

and official Facebook groups, keeping up to date with ex students should be easier than ever.

As ever, I would be very interested to hear of other people’s experiences of getting KS4 to begin to investigate Russell Group options and resources you might have used. Get in touch!

My old school’s Careers/CEIAG policy document (updated April 2014)

Here is our current CEIAG policy document.

It has been through a number of iterations over the years as the Statutory requirements on schools have changed, as our own work and program of provision has grown and adapted and as other helpful resources have also been published.

Feel free to use it as a starting point for writing your own Policy that combines the value and outcomes your school wants to achieve from it’s CEIAG program in your local context.

If you do use it, please let me know how you’ve adapted it and what areas I could improve on!

Groundhog Day and a bit of change theory

The slow hands of time

Doing the Careers Theory Unit for the Level 6 IAG qualification does strange things to you. You’ll be absently mindedly watching a film or reading a novel, and all of a sudden, leap to your feet and exclaim with a new found pride, “That’s a classic example of Happenstance Theory!”

Or maybe you won’t. I did. Which is why, after reading a book about the writing of a massively popular Hollywood film, I wanted to write a post about how I found themes in it which I thought I could apply to careers guidance.

Writing Goundhog Day by Danny Rubin

The film is Groundhog Day. I’m told that there are a few anti comedy gold misfits that may not have seen it and so, at this point, I should provide a brief summary of the plot.

But I’m not going to though. Because you should watch it. It’s really good.

Towards the end of the book the screenwriter, Danny Rubin, reflects on the many reasons he thinks the film was so successful. This is one of them:

“I think the most emotionally compelling argument made by the movie, the one that seems the most inspirational and optimistic, and convincing of all, is this; The absolutely worst day of Phil’s life took place under the exact same conditions as the absolutely best day of Phil’s life. The best day and the worst day were the same day. In fact, a whole universe of experiences proved to be possible on this single day. The difference was Phil himself, what he noticed, how he interpreted his surroundings, and what he chose to do.

This is an extremely empowering message. It suggests that, like Phil, we need not be the victims of our own lives, and that the power to change our fate, to change our experience of a single day, rests within ourselves. No matter what cycle we are stuck inside, the power to escape is already present within us.”

That’s a wonderful little piece of writing. Films have always had the power to inspire but the construction of the plot in Groundhog Day lends it’s self to be used as a motivator for people to change or a beacon to highlight that change is both feasible and wanted.

Lewin conceived change as “a modification of those behaviours keeping a systems behaviour stable.” In Groundhog Day this modification takes place over (countless) repetitions of the same day, as the main character enters as initial cynic and then transitions to depressed, to even more desperate and reckless right through to optimistic and welcoming. The initial concept for the film was much more of a dramatic piece which delved into the mindset of man who literally lived through the same day for centuries. A concept in the original script attempted to show just how long Bill Murray’s character (Phil) has been in the loop by showing him reading one page in a book of a whole library a day. He would systematically start at one end of the row of book shelves and, reading only one page a day to convince himself that time was moving forward, would work his way to the end of the end of the row. Laugh a minute right. But this was before Bill Murray got involved and made it a ‘dramedy’ and they needed to get the idea across of the sheer mind pulping tedium of a never ending cycle of the same day.

The pressure to intervene “in the system to develop new behaviours, values and attributes through changes in organizational structures and processes” comes from the tedium of already having tried all the other options. Reckless thrill seeking – check, short term gratification – check, multiple suicide attempts – check. None of have any impact on Phil’s situation so he pursues the only option left open to him: become good. He learns about people in the small town, he saves children from injury (time and time again) he learns new skills and, in the space of twenty four hours, becomes a central figure of the community praised by all at the annual Groundhog Day party. After exhausting all the routes to negative conclusions he settles on structures that breed positive outcomes.

I think there is much to draw upon here for IAG practitioners. Many clients, be they employees or school children, feel that their paths are already set and, no matter their efforts, to some extent their futures are already mapped out. The feeling that each day will be the same as the next and that change, or the desired consequences of change, are too far away to be realistically obtainable are so depressing that Lewin’s first stage of “Unfreezing” isn’t attempted by the client. The persistence and resilience required to unfreeze from current behaviours and instigate new ones becomes an insurmountable barrier not even to be attempted. The simple tale of Groundhog Day shows that it can and, that with enough change, benefits can be seen within a day because, like the quote above says, Phil’s worst day was also his best day. He just did things differently.